Monday, October 30, 2006

Coffee Snobbery

OK, I admit I'm a coffee snob. I love Starbuck's, but I prefer it in the coffeeshop. I like it strong and plain, with cream and a sweetener. No flavors but the simple coffee essence. OK-- maybe a shot of chocolate at most, but never in the morning.

It matters alot to me what my coffee comes in. The cup can't be too large, because then the coffee gets cold as one sips it. My favorite cups are not too small either, becuase then I have to rouse myself too often to get some more. I like to be still with my coffee. Eight to ten ounce mugs are just about right. It can't be too thick-walled, like stoneware or pottery, because the fresh coffee will have too much china to warm up and lose heat. Porcelain, so long as it is relatively thin-walled, is just about perfect.

The mug also needs to be beautiful. I like ones with beautiful classic flowers on them:

Or with a classical theme:

Here are a few others I like:

Gold is always a civilised touch, too. Hm. Need to do some more Web surfing to find something perfect to replace the mug I just broke.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

My Daughter.

Meg got a warning on her driving a couple of nights ago. She was coming home from an outing with friends when she overshot a red light, realised it, tapped the brake, and decided to go through because it was just safer to do that. She got pulled over, to her acute shame, and explained to the officer what had happened. He told her that he'd guessed that's what happened, and wasn't going to give her a ticket, just a warning.

She told me that she was so ashamed that she felt like crying but didn't. "I didn't want the policeman to think I was trying to manipulate him."


Meg was on the computer yesterday while I was making a ginger-pear tart for a dessert for guests we were having that night. I cut off a tiny piece of the candied ginger and went into the family room, where I found her in her usual bizarre mood.

"Open your mouth and close your eyes, and you will get a big surprise" I offered.

"What is it, a cockroach?" came the sardonic reply.

"Of course not!", I laughed.

"A spider?"

"No, something much, much nicer than a spider."

"A bunny rabbit?" she said in a toddler's voice.

"Yeah, kid, open your yap one more time and I'm going to stuff a dead bunny in there! Open up, doofus!"

Finally she duly closed her eyes and opened up. I placed the ginger in her mouth.

"Oooohhh, garlic!" she cooed. "Uuuhhhmm, I meant ginger, right? Ginger!"

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Open Air Markets

Let our family officially go on record as Loving Open Air Markets. When we lived in Vienna, at least twice a week we'd go to Naschmarkt, which is a mile-long one not too far from the music district. We'd strap on our backpacks (my then-10-and-6 year olds were my little pack horses for the goods) and no matter what the weather, have fun seeing what was new that day. Turks brought fruit and sweets from their country (we had real Turkish delight more than once, to the delight of my children to whom I was reading the Chronicles of Narnia), there were live fish swimming around in tanks, huge tables piles with cheeses, and a special little store that was the only one in which I could find real corn meal for corn bread. Most of the booths were owned and run by foreigners (to Austria, that is), businesslike and gruffly kind. And they weren't terribly hung-up on cleanliness, either. I vividly remember one grizzled meat merchant who handled a cut of meat with his bare hands and took my money with the same hand. He'd been doing that all day, and this wasn't a place with clean washrooms handy by. I took that piece of meat home and boiled the hell out of it.

Anyway, we love these places, and I make a point of trying to mingle in them wherever we go. Here's a small one in the old town in Amsterdam:

Far better, though, is the Green Market in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Strictly speaking, it isn't an open air market, individual vendors each with their wares, competing with one another for quality and price. There isn't much you can't buy there-- anything from socks to sweets, they've got it. The meat vendors and fruit tables are the best though-- and the dried fruit/nut/spice guys too:

Look closely at the meat items being offered for sale. One of them you're not likely to find anywhere in the US!

If US markets were more like this, shopping would definitely be one of the high points of my week. Look at this fruit stand! The berries, they said, were from Uzbekistan, to the south, but we had doubts. It isn't berry season. But who knows-- these are clever people. The name "Almaty" literally means "big apple". Surrounding the city there are (or used to be, at least) apple orchard producing apples of a truly gigantic size-- as big as large grapefruit. I didn't see any though, unfortunately.

I didn't take any pictures of it, but we also visited a ZUM, which is a classic leftover from Soviet days, boringly described as a department store, except for the fact that there's alot more available now than at that time. The ZUM is like the Green Market, except it's for non-food items-- and a busy place it is too. The first floor is given over to electronics vendors, and there are several more floors where you can buy everything from carpets from Bishkek to crystal from Bavaria. There are alo places to get native goods, such as thick felted wool hats embroidered with Kazakh motifs. We bought a couple for the kids. If ever you have a chance to visit a ZUM, go for it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


On our way to Central Asia, we had a long layover in Amsterdam, so long that Rich declared that we should try to get into town and spend some time wandering. I was game, so we stowed our luggage, went through passport control, and got the train into the center of the city. This is the train station there; amazing isn't it?:

The station lets one off right next to the old city, which is what we wanted to see. It was worth it. The architecture from the 17th c. is unbelievable, not just because it is so unique and lovely, but also because as a result of having been built on swampy lowland, the buildings have settled into the most impossible angles. It is a testament to the Dutch building expertise that these buildings have stood for so long. I am certain that there isn't a stick of furniture in the entire place that stands equally on four legs. If you look closely you can see the iron braces on the outsides of the buildings-- of course, they are decorative too:

The catch to all this is that the old town is right where the "red light" district is, which was pretty depressing. It was discomfiting in the extreme to walk past some marvelous old pile and suddenly get an eyeful of some pathetic, haggard, overweight old thing in the window, dressed in nothing but a lacy outfit that barely covered her. And then there are the streets devoted to stores selling sex toys...ugh....and the pervasive presence of homosexual couples. What is it with these Dutch, the beneficiaries of some of the brightest stars of the Reformation, that they should come to this? What happened? No, we took no pictures of this tragedy. We can only hope that there is ministry going on to bring the Word back into this place, if God should be so gracious. Fortunately it isn't all like that, and we did see some pretty residences both old and new.

We had lunch in an outdoor cafe, forunately under an awning, as it began to rain.

Something that happened to me more than once was sort of funny: when I travel I never wear makeup; it's just too much of a drag to maintain. Well, it turns out that most Dutch women aren't too involved with it either-- they look pretty good without it in a plain, practical, good humored sort of way. With my blond hair and un-made-up face, I had alot of folks mistaking me for Dutch and trying to talk to me in that language. Rich said he didn't know why they would make that mistake; I am well under the average height of Dutch women-- which at 5'7", is the tallest in the world. The men average out at 6'3".

So that was our introduction to Amsterdam. I hope someday to make a fairer acquaintance with it, and to hear what God is about in that place. May He have mercy on her and on her people.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


One of the best things about being married to Rich is that he is so intrepid. I mean, this man will try just about anything once, and do it again if it gave him a buzz. If it gives him enough of a buzz, he'll persuade me to try it. If it gives me a buzz, I've learned to do it more than once. Carpe diem, and all that.

One thing we do alot of is travel. Rich gets to travel alot simply because he is a professor and scientist-- so much so that he is on home-away-from-home terms with some airports, and has seen enough places to be able to pretend that he is James Bond (this is an ongoing hobby of ours). But he has other interests that take him to some mighty out-of-the-way places that even Bond hasn't been to yet.. This past week we were in Kazakhstan, meeting with staff of a small non-profit of which Rich is the chairman of the board. We attended meetings with the staff, went to a seminar they hosted, and ate Kazakh, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Uzbek food. (Not all at once.)

As we collapsed into our own blessed bed last night, I thanked Rich for making marriage so much fun. He said that most folks would consider a trip to Central Asia something less than fun. I told him that I do count it as fun-- in fact most things can be counted as fun in my opinion, so long as they don't hurt. I'll post some pix just as soon as he can get them onto our computer; the camera has had an argument with this computer and they don't speak to one another any more, so they use a CD as a go-between.